I can’t run today because Norma’s gonna be here soon. We’ve got 9:30 brunch plans and it’s already 8:30 by the time I wake up.
“Oooh girl, you slept in late!” says Jean. I think this is not late because in my time zone it’s still just 6:30. I correct her and tell her she is the one that’s late because she’s in her own damn time zone.
“Well, get ready because Norma Jean’s gonna be by pretty soon.” I hop in the shower and wash off the smoke that I know is gonna stick to me in the few minutes after I hop out. Contacts in, makeup on and I’m ready to see a little more of the city.
Norma Jean grabs us in her boyfriend’s black BMW and Tina and Jean ooh and aww over how luxurious it is.
“This is a nice ride, a niiiice ride, it sho is,” says Jean. “Mmm… hmm… I gotta get me one of these.”
We take Skinker all the way down to Keinlin and down some other round about roads till we get to an IHOP that is crowded and bustling. I do not like IHOP in the least and have only had bad experiences here except for the time at 4am in Raleigh when it was the only thing that could sober me up.
I look at the menu and there are very limited options for a gluten, dairy, soy, and egg free eater like myself and so decide on the grilled tilapia and steamed broccoli. The others go for the cheapest items on the Senior 55 and over portion of the menu, which means pancakes, waffles, bacon, and ample amounts of butterscotch and classic maple syrup.
We get our own big carafe of coffee and drink it like cold water on a hot day.
We discuss the previous few days and our visit to see Lois.
“What about that Darryl guy, don’t you think maybe Tommy’s right that he might be abusive?” I ask.
“Well, he might be but that sho is her problem and not mine,” answers Jean.
“He wasn’t very nice when he came out to meet us. He barely said hi to us and gave us some awful glares.”
“Well you’re not that nice either.”
“What are you talking about? If I were being introduced to people I would at least stick around for more than a literal second.” She is obviously confusing my shyness for lack of caring.
“I’m the only friendly one around here! I’m friendly and I care about people. See I go talk to everyone, everyone! You ain’t friendly and you don’t care about people.”
I can feel my heart galloping now and my cheeks are on fire.
“Don’t assume you know ANYTHING about me! Just because I don’t talk to everyone doesn’t mean I don’t care, it means I’m shy! Shy and not caring are not the same thing!”
“Oh girl, you don’t care.”
“Yes I do, I just don’t express it the same way you do.”
Norma attempts to mediate the situation and agrees with me but Jean won’t listen. I am pissed, decide that this should be the end of our conversation and look away to my phone for moral support. How dare she decide that she understands me as a person when she has barely known me for longer than these few days.
Our food comes but only after tables that have ordered before us get theirs. Aunt Jean is steaming mad and already talking about sending her food back because it’s gonna be cold.
The rest of us tell her to cool down and just wait and see what’s up.
When it does come it is actually is kind of cool, but Jean doesn’t send it back because she’s too hungry to wait for more and doesn’t trust that it won’t come back to us with spit and piss mixed in.
My tilapia with mushroom sauce looks fine until I start eating it and it tastes a little off, but I keep eating because I’m once again famished and can’t stop shoveling it in.
I sit in silence the rest of the time and wonder on how I can get a few moments away from everyone to cool down, but don’t see an out. I want to sequester myself in a bathroom stall and call friends but when I reach the bathroom it is a single and there is a line so I take my turn and return to the table.
Norma Jean pays our check, we exit for one of many smoke breaks and then drive across the street to Galleria mall. We enter Dillards and peruse the purses, the shoes, and then I realize that something is wrong. Something is terribly wrong and I need to find a bathroom fast.
“I’ll be back,” I shout as I run toward a clerk and ask where the closest restroom is. I’m gonna be sick. My stomach has turned and I think I might throw up. Getting to the restroom feels like wading through a desert to an oasis. When I find it, I am seconds away from shitting on myself and am grateful I made it in time. My mouth is watery and tingling so I make sure I have a bag in front of me just in case.
Right now I am sure that I have been food poisoned.
Why the fuck did you keep eating it? I ask myself, but I know the answer and it is stupid and I am angry at myself for knowing that something was wrong and letting it go.
My head is in vertigo as I leave the restroom and my body shivering. I know all is not yet well, but I must get back to my family. When I find them they are upstairs and Tina is just taking off a pair of Coach boots that are snuggly stuck to her foot and have to be pried off by an extra pair of hands.
“I’ll take them!” She tells a girl that must have been helping her.
“Where you been?” They all ask in chorus.
“Oh, just looking at the lingerie downstairs, needed a few things.” I didn’t want to admit what was really going on, that I was sick and that I needed rest.
Not long after, we make our way from the mall to yet another smoke break and then over to Shnucks, a local chain grocery store. In desperation I pick up some lemon, ginger, coconut water, and lemon sorbet. My body is convinced that lemon sorbet is the simple resolution to my sickness.
While I find my remedies, Norma Jean, Aunt Jean, and Aunt Tina find their way to the fish counter and have a few pounds of catfish fried up for our dinner.
“Mmm, this is gonna be some good fish!”
I want to hurl at the idea of having any more fish after that less than savory breakfast.
Norma Jean drives us to her house for dinner and cards. Dinner is the catfish and some salad. Though I still feel a little nauseous there is still a lasting hunger that makes me go after the cool leafy greens. The salty warm smell of the catfish lingers and I quickly give in and have a small piece because I’ve gotta know what it tastes like. It’s my first taste since I was ten.
“What do I put on it?”
“Anything you want. I put ketchup or hot sauce.”
“Would mustard be fine.”
“Sure, try what you like.”
I douse my little fish in mustard, find a seat and devour the catfish and greens as if it’s my last meal. The fish is delicious but I don’t want to take too many chances and decide against more and go for the sorbet, half a container of it. Soon I feel less shaky and more grounded in my body but I’m not sure this is the last I’ll see of my stomach problems.
We eat around the TV and everyone catches up on As the World Turns. I feel like it’s the same as yesterday’s episode, but they all say “no, no girl, this, this and this has happened.” I’m still pretty sure it’s the same anyway.
After dinner, once my Aunt Linda finally arrives my Aunties and Norma Jean sit at the tiny plastic kitchen table and start a three hour long game of Spades. The game is fast paced. One game takes five minutes or less and there are two teams. They make up rules and teams and get going. There is hootin and howling in the kitchen the longer the night goes.
“Oh no, Oh no!” is what I hear from the living room. I don’t want to join the game because I need to get some time alone. It’s time to pray and do some daily devotions from the new So Who Do you think you are? series at my church.
I get time for my devotions and a short nap before more people enter the house, because in black houses the door is always open and the people are endless.
In walks Norma Jean’s daughter Stephanie and her brothers of whom I can’t remember the names.
Stephanie talks and talks about what’s been going on here and there and tells us that we should join her at Stress Free Friday’s, a networking happy hour for professionals in the African-American community.
The only thing I know is that I want to go because there were be more people there than just my Peoples.
“I’ll be there!” I say. Things are looking up.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but at this point I have been sequestered in rooms, halls, and dining areas with them for the entire trip and I want to meet people who aren’t Peoples like I want a piece of gluten free chocolate cake.
When three hours have passed, games have been won and the cards passed to countless people for more games, it’s time to leave once again. Some are just happy while others are happy and drunk. I am neither, but I’m alive. Everyone makes sure to send love to everyone else and the night is once again over and it’s time to meet my blow up mattress once again.